Wal-Mart Creates Income Inequality

By Kim Bobo

On May 1st, International Worker’s Day, the Executive Director of the national organization Interfaith Worker Justice spoke at SUNY Broome, Catholic Charities, the Martin Luther King Jr Plaza, and First Congregational. She spent the day advocating for a local worker center, like those workers from Tennessee to California have built, and talking to workers about “wage theft.” Here is an edited transcript for the first part of her remarks on Wal-Mart and income inequality. See the next for a description of wage theft, taken from the same speech.

I was asked to talk about wage theft, inequality, and the fight for America’s future, so I want to talk first about income inequality. Wal-Mart is the world’s largest and richest employer, employing 1.4 million workers in the U.S. alone. Its leadership is also the poster children for income inequality. Meet the average Wal-Mart worker: the average annual salary for a sales associate is a $15,500 a year, the average hourly wage is $8.81. Most Wal-Mart workers rely on public subsidies like healthcare and food stamps. It’s estimated that Wal-Mart associates use over $6.2 billion in public services. Basically the American taxpayer is subsidizing Wal-Mart by covering their workers living costs. Wal-Mart workers are not only upset about their salaries and lack of benefits, but by their Just-in-Time scheduling that constantly changes their work hours.

Now meet the Wal-Mart leadership: Mike Duke, who retired as CEO in January, had been there since 2009. In that time period his annual compensation ranged from $5 million to $20 million. In leaving he received $140 million in deferred compensation for 5 years of work. The six heirs to the Walton family fortune control more than 50% of Wal-Mart’s stock, and together they have a net worth of $144 BILLION. These six people in one family, who control one company, have same wealth as the bottom 42% of American families combined.

Last year I had the opportunity of going to the annual Wal-Mart stockholders’ meeting. This event was held at the University of Arkansas football stadium. They bussed in thousands and thousands of workers. People like me lined up at 6:30 a.m. The doors opened and I entered a giant rock concert at 8 a.m. It went on for 4 hours.

The main message, of this 4 hour extravaganza with the Walton family was: if you have talent and work hard, we give you an opportunity at Wal-Mart. It’s clear to Wal-Mart workers and all of us that if you aren’t doing well and moving up in the ranks and you only earn $8.81 an hour, then you either have no talent or you don’t work hard! That was the message. A couple of months later the National Restaurant Association said the exact same thing in response to fast food workers’ calls for higher wages. “If you have talent you’ll move up in fast food.”

NONE OF THIS IS OK! Wal-Mart can do better! They could pay everyone a living wage. The workers are asking for $25,000 a year. They could do that without even raising prices.

Changing Wal-Mart is important not just because it employs 1.4 million US workers. Wal-Mart sets and lowers the standards for all workers in retail and manufacturing. It is the poster child for inequality and greed in our society. Increasing income disparity between those who work in our companies, our stores, our factories and those who own them is a dangerous trend. All the charts show that the top one, five, and ten percent’s wealth is growing massively, while the bottom 20% is declining. What used to be a vast middle is withering away. We have to create jobs and make sure those jobs pay. In this so-called recovery, 44 % of all new jobs pay poverty wage and 15% of all new jobs are temp jobs, with no permanence, no vacation, and no benefits. Inequality is the defining issue of the day, and Wal-Mart symbolizes all that is wrong with the US.

 

 

 

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